Finding the Center

Alper Tanca
7 minutes

Years ago a friend asked me, “If you were not who you are now, who would you like to be?” I mumbled something about I would be this or I would be that, and I didn’t like my final answer at all. No matter who I made myself to be, “that person” could never satisfy me.

Fortunately, time has not made me forget that question and that memory. Every now and then I would think about this dialog and wonder what the right answer was, or if there was a right answer. The answer to this question finally came to me many years later during my Sufi studies. And not by one but by multiple sources. The most memorable of these answers is the story of Merkez Efendi.

Merkez Efendi’s name was not Merkez, his real name was Musa. Sunbül Effendi, who was the disciple of Merkez Effendi, decided one day to put all the dervishes to the test because the other dervishes were jealous of the attention he gave to Musa Effendi. Since he was sure of the answers his brilliant disciple Musa Efendi would give, he wanted the other disciples to understand the reason for his interest in him. He gathered all the dervishes together and asked them; “If you were given the power and you were to create the world again, how would you create it?” The dervishes began to answer, some of them had eliminated winter, cold, hunger, some poverty. When everyone gave their opinions and it was Merkez Efendi’s turn, he said, “Sir, I would leave everything in its center as it is, because there is such a divine order that everything is already perfect as it is, no more, no less.” This answer pleased Sünbül Efendi very much and Musa Efendi became Merkez Efendi.

What do you think is remarkable about this story? I, for my part, understand that if we become conscious that everything is already as it should be, we will be at an equal distance to everything, and the point where we are at an equal distance to everything will be the center. This life is not designed to be a paradise, but if we can find that balance point, we can make this life our paradise despite all the troubles and troubles.

Secondly, that instead of focusing on hypothetical things like changing our destiny, we should focus on the way we accept our destiny. What will happen will happen, everything will happen as it is meant to happen and there is a reason for everything that has happened so far. We can change how we deal with what has happened and what will happen, remembering that these things have made us who we are. This, of course/no doubt, requires a state of being at peace with yourself, a capacity to love who/what you are. And that is what our control over our destiny is really all about. Destiny is unchanging, it is known from eternity what is going to happen, our field of action is how we accept what is going to happen. Nor should this acceptance be perceived as passive submission. For example, the Sufi concept of consent involves active acceptance. So what is this active acceptance? This is best illustrated by the example of a farmer sowing seeds. Before planting a seed, a farmer plows the soil, aerates it, then plants the seed, fertilizes it, waters it and waits. The process up to this point has been an active effort on the part of the farmer. He knows that he has no choice but to refer the rest to Allah. He has no control over whether it rains, whether there is frost, whether locusts will eat the crops. But just as he knows that the ears will not come up without sowing the seed, so he knows very well that when he sows wheat seed, barley will not come up. This is what we should understand by active consent. To strive, to take precautions, to hope and to stop worrying about things we cannot control.

Returning to the concept of the center, the center is the point of perfect equilibrium. Isn’t that state of balance what we are trying to find in this life? If we manage to remain calm in the face of all the positive and negative things that happen to us, we can consider ourselves to have found the middle ground. For me, there is a simple way to know when I am moving away from my center; if something happens to me during the day and I have to make a decision, if the decision I make or the action I take makes me feel uneasy when I look inward, if that voice that is always whispering behind our ears but we usually ignore it is not satisfied, I know that I have done something that has moved me away from my center. The center is first of all our essence, and the essence is a light breathed into us from God. The closer we can get to it, the more balanced and happy life we can live. This sometimes requires big confrontations and courageous decisions, but at some point it has to be done.

So what might we face after making these brave decisions? For example, let’s assume that we heed a call we hear within us and choose to live life in a more spiritual dimension. First of all, this decision is an effect, like a stone thrown into water, it will trigger a set of consequences, ring by ring. The first of these can be through our family, our spouse, the innermost circle of the ring. This spiritual change you are going through may worry them. If you believe that your heart is in the right place, it may be necessary to do some serious work on recreating an open dialog and trust for them. The second circle is the circle of close friends. After our family, they are the group closest to us and the group we shop with the most. As far as I observe in this group, we encounter two kinds of reactions. Either some of your old friends are slowly drifting away from you or, as a nice surprise, you realize that some of them are on the same quest and you rediscover each other. It is useful to keep one thing in mind here, and that is that nature does not accept a vacuum. When you say goodbye to your departing friends with love and start living a life closer to your center, they will surely be replaced by people with whom you can have a more heart-to-heart connection, who will understand what you mean with a glance. This is where the courage part comes in, in “letting go”. Although letting go sounds like a rupture in concept, I think it is actually a prerequisite for establishing more authentic connections. Speaking of the heart-to-heart connection, it is worth mentioning briefly why the heart is considered the center in Sufism.

“The heart is neither this nor that. But it is both this and that.” [1]

Apart from its apparent meaning, the heart has a meaning far beyond being an organ. In fact, one of the dictionary meanings of heart is the center, the center of something. It is such an organ that it is a gateway between the visible and the invisible. The heart is neither only corporeal nor only spiritual, but both. According to Sufism, the heart is also the seat of reason and recognition. In this respect, when we talk about finding one’s center, we are actually talking about reestablishing one’s relationship with one’s heart.

I think about this stormy transition period that we are going through right now and that we all feel in our bones. We are like a small boat in a swollen ocean, which can only reach the harbor safely if it follows the lighthouse that gives it light. Happily, this light is not withheld from anyone, it is right in our center, if only we are determined to follow it.

[1] Sachiko Murata, The Tao of Islam: A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1992, 296.

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